The 60s Official Site Blog

Dedicated to the memory and history of the 60s from a personal and historical point of view.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

October 1, 1962 a Major Television Event Occurred

On October 1, 1962, 45 years ago, a major television event occurred for those of you who watch late TV. Johnny Carson made his debut on the Tonight Show and continually kept us entertained for nearly four decades. Johnny took over for Jack Parr who had quit the show. What a treat for us when Johnny arrived!

For Millions of viewers tuning in the "Tonight Show" it became a ritual. Johnny Carson had such quick wit and a natural charm about him that everybody loved.

In th later years Ed McMahon would with a musical intro announce "Heeeeeer's Johnny." Johnny's trademark became the phantom golf swing that many entertainers and guests would immitate.

I remember when Carson's parody and monologue at times would fail and the band would play "Tea for Two" and Johhny would dance and eventually he got his laugh. Sometimes he would pull down the mike real close to his face and announce "Attention K-Mart shoppers."

Carson's show was the launching pad for many talented performers, notably comedians. Many got their "big break" by appearing on the show, and it was considered the crowning achievement to not only get Johnny to laugh out loud, but also to be called over to the guest chair. In many ways, Carson was the successor to The Ed Sullivan Show as a showcase for all kinds of talent, as well as continuing the Vaudeville variety-show tradition.

An oft-repeated story—since dismissed as an "urban legend"—involved a guest appearance by Zsa Zsa Gabor carrying a white Persian cat. Gabor is said to have asked Johnny if he would like to "pet my pussy?" During a 1989 appearance, Jane Fonda noted that her son had repeated the claim, and "my son said that you said, uh, 'I'd love to, if you'd remove that damned cat!' Is it true?" Carson denied the episode on-air ("No, I think I would recall that...") and both he and Gabor responded to researchers by stating the event "never happened." Despite widespread insistence by people who claimed to see the episode, no audio or video recording has ever been produced.

However, a bit of risqué humor was not beyond Carson. During an interview with Dolly Parton, in reference to her large bust, she said, "People are always asking if they're real and .... I'll tell you what, these are mine." Carson replied, "I have certain guidelines on this show. But I would give about a year's pay to peek under there."

Johnny played so many great memorable characters on his show. Who could forget?

Art Fern, the "Tea Time Movie" announcer (always selling strange or shoddy merchandise). The character was previously named Honest Bernie Schlock and then Ralph Willie when the Tea-Time sketches first aired (mid-late 1960s).
A stereotypical right-wing extremist wearing a plaid hunting coat and cap who always introduced himself as "Floyd R. Turbo American" (with no pause between words)

Aunt Blabby, a cantankerous and sometimes amorous old lady who played the foil to Ed McMahon's straightman through pestering and berating.

Perhaps his best-known character, Carnac the Magnificent, who pretended to be a psychic who could answer questions before seeing them (and reading them out loud). (This is in fact a parody of a real act known as "one ahead" where the first answer is known to the performer in advance, and each succeeding answer is in fact on the card containing the previous item's question.) Carnac's answers were always humorous, ironic, or puns. Ed McMahon would always announce near the end, "I hold in my hand the last envelope," at which at the news the audience would applaud wildly, prompting Carnac to pronounce a comedic "curse" on the audience, such as "May all your genes be recessive!" (In fact, the name Carnac the Magnificent was the stage name Johnny used in his magic act as a youth.)

Carson was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1987. His other awards include six Emmy Awards and a George Foster Peabody Award. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992, and the Kennedy Center Honors in 1993.

There will never be another Johnny Carson nor will there be anybody that can closely parody him. Although Jay Leno does a good job on the Jay Leno Show, I loved the wit of Johnny Carson more. We all mourned when he left the show and we cried when our late night friend passed away January 23, 2005.

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